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Letter from Mary Haffner: Our Oil Spill should wake us up to the dangerous pipelines under Ventura

Ventura oil spill is wake-up call

July 31, 2016 originally published in the VC STAR

At 5:30 a.m. on June 23, my family was awakened by a sickening smell. A 75-year-old pipeline I did not know existed next to our backyard in Ventura spilled 45,000 gallons of crude oil into the Prince Barranca.

Since then, I have educated myself about crude oil pipelines, how they are regulated, and how little the pipeline industry answers to anyone, including the counties, cities and neighborhoods they contaminate.

Since that morning, our neighborhood has learned that much of the spilled oil cannot be removed. To do so would create too much instability in the canyon, and homes would be compromised.

This oil has left behind permanent and long-term injury to this wildlife corridor. To justify this damage, the "Unified Command" has asked our neighborhood to accept a new definition of "clean."

After two community meetings, a neighborhood meeting with Crimson Pipeline's president and countless hours of research, I have no confidence in the integrity of Crimson or in the aging pipeline that still pumps hazardous and flammable liquids through our city, crisscrossing under streets, near homes and schools.

But don't take my word for it. Look at Crimson's record and the regulatory framework that is supposed to have oversight over this pipeline.

Crimson Pipeline was established in 2005 to transport crude in "legacy" pipelines. Its record of spills reflects the problems commonly found with these aging lines. Many of its pipes are too old to be tested with the latest technology.

Crimson can say it is highly regulated and that the age of a pipeline is irrelevant, but the truth is it regulates itself and the pipelines do not get stronger with age.

A 2014 audit by the Office of the Inspector General found that the federal agency charged with regulating pipelines "lacks effective management and oversight of hazardous liquid pipelines."

The California agency charged with regulating these lines doesn't conduct its own independent inspections — it is stretched too thin. Instead, it signs off on inspection plans provided by pipeline companies, allowing these companies to do their own testing or hire their own private companies to inspect their lines.

Regulatory oversight is nothing more than a theory. Ventura is left sitting atop an ancient line operated by a company with a dismal record of spills and a president who plays fast and loose with the facts.

Oil spills are just a cost of doing business, and its business model is to keep these old lines running instead of replacing them. Maintenance instead of replacement means more spills, leaks and ruptures.

Another cause for concern is the secretive nature of the industry and its lack of transparency. A report in April by the Ventura County Grand Jury found that "no single government entity (in Ventura County) has a complete grasp of critical information such as (pipeline) test history, test validity and risks associated with the total pipeline array in the county ... and the county does not have a thorough understanding of the state of the total crude oil pipeline array within the county."

If you request a copy of Crimson's "oil spill response plan," you will receive a heavily redacted document that blots out maps of pipeline locations, worst-case scenario plans and other important information for the health and safety of Ventura's residents.

This spill should be a wake-up call to Ventura. With all that we know, much more action should be taken to ensure that our residents and environment are safe.

Mary Haffner is an attorney and a Ventura Unified School District board member.


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